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Fire Starter
Original poster
May 27, 2013
Neptune Beach, Florida
Amateur division. It's a fundraiser for a local children's home, but it's citywide and there's a pro division.  I'm competing in all three categories, Chicken, Ribs & Pork Shoulder.  Not only will there be blind judging, but I'll be serving my food to folks who make donations to wander around and sample the BBQ, so I don't want to embarrass myself.

Who can give me some contest pointers?

So far, I'm thinking of brining the chicken and then spatchcocking the birds and smoking them skin side down at 300 to try and get the skin crisp while keeping the meat moist.

I'm also thinking of using bone-in butts, cut to about 5 lbs each, to make cooking time more manageable.

Anybody willing to share tips or give me pointers?

Good luck to you! Not being a competitor I can't offer much advice. I will say that from what I've seen on TV, most folks do chicken thighs due to the uniformity and the fact that the dark meat is a little more forgiving. Whole spatchcocked birds are usually very tasty, but can at times be tricky. Also, if they're judging on appearance, whole birds can be more difficult to make a pretty presentation box with.

I'd keep it simple and do what you're familiar with since this is your first time out. No matter what, I'm sure you'll have a great time!
I know there is a couple of great finishing sauces on here for pork, It does take it to the next level 

Remember  to try and not get too stressed LOL 

Good luck keep us posted 
I've only done it twice, but it seems to be sort of a general idea that judges, (even local ones...) seem to like things fairly sweet and bold. Honey makes a nice addition to any sauce towards the end of cooking, because of it's nice shiny glaze, and the sweetness. What I learned is to plan ahead as far as turn-in times, because when cooking all categories it can become pretty busy if the turn-in times are close together! So helpers are great! Keeping hands and utensils sanitized when you're in a hurry can be tough, but they might be watching! Lots of lists of supplies, ingredients etc., and a schedule of your plan-like when to prep. certain meats, and when meats need attention while they're cooking-down to the minute, will help also. Try everything before you decide what to turn in. I've turned in what I thought was good, then tried the other roast (or whatever it is) & wished I would've turned it in instead! Try not to be intimidated by what other teams are doing, if they have more people or more expensive equipment. It really doesn't matter. You can win with a very small cheap cooker, it just makes it tougher to cook lots of food because you're limited on space. But don't be afraid to learn from others who know what they're doing. Make friends with other competitors if you can, you might need their help, or need to borrow something-plus it's just more fun that way. Keep in mind that you are your worst critic-I was going to throw away my ribs cuz I thought they were really lame, and I won!! There's no such thing as too much table space, so keep that in mind. Blankets or coolers to keep meat warm until turn-in also helps. Keep garnishes like lettuce (if your contest allows them in your boxes) cool and fresh-they make your box look much better. Good luck! Prepare well, and try to have fun! Hope this helps!
I have only done a couple of contests. I probably missed a chance to give you some pre-contest advice since I have not been on in a while.

Since you are already there and setting up etc. take this for what it is worth, if it is worth anything.

Like kenY above said make friends with some of the other competitors. At the only two I have been in the vets were glad to lend some advice to rookies. Me and my partner got some great advice from some other competitors. We met Harry Soo (from BBQ Pitmasters) at our first contest and he gave some great advice to us and even held a box building class for anyone who wanted to attend...we did!

I would say to look at this first contest as a great opportunity to learn a lot and have some fun while doing it. It is a lot of work but try to keep relaxed and don't stress...don't worry about where you are going to place etc. for this first time. Learn the ropes and enjoy a great expierence.
Thanks to everyone for all the support. We got the fires started at 4 AM. Ran into a temp crash when the meat went on because there was no time to let it rise to room temp. I'm thinking I'm going to have to cut my shoulder in half to get it cooked in time.
Our ribs cooked much faster than I thought they would. Had to rest them a very long time. Didn't think they were as good as the chicken and pork.

Very pleased with the crowd reaction to everything. We got a lot of compliments.
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